The Woman at the Well

Denise M. Kohlmeyer

He watched her slowly trudge up the hill, empty jug in hand. She was bent down, her traditional head covering hiding her head and face. He could only see her eyes. But He already knew her. He knew her loneliness, her despair, her fears, her shame. He knew everything about her.

She came up the hill, empty jug in hand. Her head bent, tired, ashamed, hoping she wouldn't run into anyone she knew. She was thankful that her head covering at least helped to hide her shame — at least outwardly.

She had been through a string of five failed marriages and was now cohabitating with another. She just wanted to be loved, to be accepted. By anyone, at this point. She'd already been shunned by the townspeople, especially the women, who had seemingly signed some silent petition among themselves to avoid her.

That's why at noon, the hottest hour of the day, when she should be resting in the cool comfort of her home, she found herself trudging up the hill to the only well in town. Alone. Sad. Resigned to her fate. But it was worth it to avoid the whispers, the stares, the finger-pointing, the feelings of hurt and rejection.

But today, a stranger was sitting at the well. A man, no less. And a Jewish one at that! She could tell by His Judean-like facial features, with its prominent nose and dark eyes and skin tone, and by the traditional mantle with its dangling tassels (tzitzith) typically worn by Rabbis. He wasn't particularly good-looking, but she didn't care about that. She herself was nothing to look at, being of a mixed race: part Jew, part Assyrian. Her features may be softer, her skin tone lighter, but she was considered a "half-breed" nonetheless — a particularly ugly race to the Jews.

In fact, the Jews purposefully avoided her region, Samaria, choosing instead to take the long way around on their journeys north rather than risk contamination and uncleanness. In a sense, they boycotted the area altogether. That's how much the Jews loathed the Samaritans.

The closer she got to the well the more she could tell for sure that, yes, this man was a full-fledged Hebrew. Likely orthodox, which would make him especially judgmental, maybe even outright hateful towards her. If He knew about her past, especially about her current living arrangements, He might even be tempted to pick up a stone and hurl it at her. She had heard about such instances.

She approached the well with trepidation. But there He sat, watching her. It made her a bit uncomfortable, but she needed water. She had to prepare the evening meal for her and her lover. So, on she trudged.

Reaching the well, she hoisted her jug onto the stone wall, panting from the climb and the hot Mediterranean sun that beat down on her. She needed to catch her breath before she starting hauling up bucket after bucket of water to fill her jug.

She glanced shyly at the stranger from beneath her head covering. He was still watching her and caught her eye. She glanced away quickly.

Then He spoke. "Will you give me a drink?"

She started. Did she hear Him correctly? Was He asking her — a "contaminated" individual, and a woman at that — for a drink of water? Did she dare answer Him, to remind Him of the unwritten rule: Jews didn't associate with Samaritans, much less speak to them?

She took a chance. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?"

Oh, my sweet child, He thought, you misunderstand. You have been shunned too long. Your mind and heart are too suspicious and full of fear.

His heart went out to her, a heart full of grace and love. And His mind full of truth — life-giving truth — that in just a few minutes, with just a few short sentences, He would speak to her and she would wonderfully cross over from sinner to saint.

"If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water."

She was intrigued, but still perplexed.

"Sir," she said respectfully, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?"

So, the conversation was in full swing. All religious, social and gender barriers pushed aside.

"Everyone who drinks this water," He said, pointing to the well he was sitting on, "will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will ever thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Was her hearing going bad or did He just say He had water that gave eternal life? Whatever! She wanted it. Craved it!

"Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." And not feel so alone and rejected, she silently thought. This eternal water would keep her from having to endure the constant insults, stares and shunning. Anything to avoid that!

"Go, call your husband and come back," He said. He knew He had to confront her sin. That was the whole reason he had come into this so-called forbidden region. He had a divine appointment with this woman. After all, she was precisely the type of person for whom He had come to die. But first she needed to hear the truth about her sin-sick soul. And He would expose it lovingly, gently. He knew she'd already been brow-beaten by others.

"I have no husband," she replied honestly, looking away. Here was her shame fully exposed. Why bother to hide? She was already as low as she could go in her life. What did she have to lose? Everyone else had already rejected her, why not this stranger too?

"You are correct when you say you have no husband" He said. "The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."

Her head jerked up and she stared at Him, stunned. How could He possibly know this about her? "Sir," she said, incredulously. "I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

Ah, Jerusalem, the holiest of cities, but definitely forbidden territory to her. Talk about shunning!

"Woman," He said, "believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."

"I know that Messiah is coming," she replied, her eyes lighting up. This conversation was getting exciting now! She knew something about this; she had heard about the Messiah, and His coming had given her some semblance — albeit small — of hope and comfort. She longed for the Messiah, even as a lowly Samaritan woman. "When He comes, He will explain everything to us." And, oh, what a day that will be! she thought.

Jesus looked intently at her. His eyes softened, His voice lowered, as if He had a secret to tell, "I, the One speaking to you — I am He."

For the third time in just a matter of minutes, she was stunned into silence. She tried to collect her thoughts, to let the reality of His words sink in. But she wasn't given the chance to reply to this astounding statement — even if she could have — for a dozen men, Jews too, chose that moment to appear, having come from town where they'd been scouring the market stalls for something to eat.

They approached the well and stood silently, taking in the incredible scene before them, their eyes darting from Jesus, who was still calmly sitting on the wall, to the Samaritan woman, whose hand still rested on her jug. An awkward silence ensued.

What in the world was their Master doing talking to this Samaritan, and a woman at that! They hadn't wanted to come to this region in the first place. They had wanted to take the normal way around it, but He had insisted. So they had followed. Just like they had everywhere else He had led them.

And He was glad that they had come just when they did, for His disciples needed to learn that they would have to go everywhere to take the Gospel to the lost, even into "contaminated" country.

As the disciples were trying to drink in the reality of the situation, suddenly, unannounced, the woman bolted back towards town, leaving her precious water jug. Still empty. She ran as fast as her long tunic would let her. Her heart beat wildly, her mind reeling with what she'd just heard. Could it be? Could it possibly be true that I had just been talking with the Messiah? she thought. Did I hear correctly? A man, a Jewish man, one who should hate me and hurl insults — and stones — at me, had just invited me — ME! — to drink of a living water that only He could supply. THE Messiah! The very One I've heard about. And He actually spoke to me! ME! A sinner!

Oh, this was too good to keep to herself. She had to share this with someone. Anyone! Even the ones who had shunned her. She ran through the dusty streets and into the market area, shouting, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?"

And they came. By the droves! To see this "man" who had told the shunned woman all about her life. They wanted to hear it for themselves. Her testimony was too unbelievable. Besides, she was a sinner, and possibly crazy too!

But over two days' time, the townspeople were convinced for themselves, first by her testimony — and her dramatically-changed life — and then because of His own words, His life-giving words that welled up and spilled over to give them eternal life.

And they rejoiced that Jesus had come into their region, a region normally boycotted by the Jews! It meant the world to them. It meant Life for them!

Published 6-9-2015